“Please stop Pete,” I said. “I want to get out and walk from here.”
We had just driven 60-plus miles of dirt road to the edge of paradise, the last three miles especially challenging, even for the 4-wheel drive pickup of friend Pete Smit’s.
We were on the edge of the Grand Canyon at Toroweap, an entry explored by few. The spectacular North Rim of the Grand Canyon gets only 10 percent of the tourists compared to the South Rim, and I suppose Toroweap visits would be measured as just a minuscule grain of sand when all visits are considered for this natural wonder.
With camera in hand and a bottle of water in my back pocket, I slipped out while Pete and our new friend Sam Cullinane continued to the designated parking area. A red flowering cactus first caught my attention. After photographing it, I worked my way to the canyon’s edge. I knew that my first view of this magnificent chasm would be awesome, but I wasn’t prepared for “beyond awesome.”
It literally took my breath away, and nearly made me dizzy as I peered 3,000 feet below, catching my first glimpse of the mighty Colorado River. My heart and spirit soared with that first glimpse, and I had it all to myself without other tourists around. I spent nearly an hour photographing the grandeur before meeting back up with Sam and Pete. Both echoed what I felt.
“Our hearts started pounding uncontrollably when we first peered into the canyon,” gasped Sam. “We nearly had to get on our stomachs to view the sudden dramatic earthly gash between canyon walls. My knees were trembling.”
Sam pointed out where they had gone to get a view of the world’s most famous rapids: Lava Falls, rated “class 10” with the Grand Canyon Colorado River scale. In the summer of 2019, Pete and I spent two weeks rafting 200-plus miles through the Grand Canyon, including the memorable Lava Falls rapid. Arizona Raft Adventures were our guides. Once, as a private party, Pete (a college roommate and lifelong friend) captained a raft through the Grand Canyon. The Toroweap view of the Canyon was a first for all of us. Sam was especially tickled as it was on her bucket list since moving to Kanab with husband Patty two years ago.
Toroweap is a Paiute word meaning dry or barren valley. It is accessed via a gravel dirt road off Arizona Highway 389 between Fredonia and Colorado City. There is a lovely campground near the canyon called Tuweep run by the National Park Service, requiring reservations. I made a mental note to make a future return, reserving a camp spot for several days to explore more vigorously and thoroughly the Toroweap view. A note of caution: If you attempt to do this trip, make sure that your vehicle is in tip-top shape for the undertaking because if you break down, expect to fork out $1,000 for towing fees.
Kanab: The center for adventuring
Kanab, Utah is clearly the hub for exploring this fascinating country of Southern Utah and Northern Arizona. Pete and I went there to visit my youngest sister Brenda Turner Walden, who was managing the well-known Rocking V Cafe. Pete parked his trailer and I my camper at her place, trekking from there. She introduced us to Sam (an author and Ted Talk presenter) who accompanied us on several adventures from Kanab.
Kanab advertises itself as ”magically unspoiled.” It is a simple town of wide streets surrounded by red rock, with plenty of lodging accommodations and restaurants worthy of patronage. Back in its heyday, it was known as ‘Little Hollywood’ with an impressive resume of 300-plus movies and TV shows filmed in and around Kanab. A good place to check out the film history is the Little Hollywood Museum.
Throughout downtown Kanab are historical plaques with photographs of famous stars and their Kanab story. The famous celebrities often stayed at the historic Parry Lodge. Within easy adventuring distance from Kanab are five national monuments, three national parks, two national forests and the renowned Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. Kanab has a plethora of guides and outfitters for exploring these areas. Our guides were two local friends: Sam and Ron. Famous explorer John Wesley Powell had his headquarters in Kanab when he explored and mapped the Grand Canyon.
Adventures from Kanab
Our first adventure was on ATVs owned by Ron and Sam. Sam’s deluxe Razor — a Mercedes Benz or Cadillac ATV, if you will — took four of us. We had a wild and woolly day exploring Hog Canyon, Peekaboo Trail and Barracks Ridge, giving us great views of Zion National Park in the distance, Diana’s Throne, and splendorous views of Kanab from above. We drove over rock trails that a sure-footed horse would find to be too much. A few times, the trail was downright scary.
The following day, Pete, Sam and I journeyed to Bryce Canyon National Park, stopping en route to hike a secret slot canyon outside Orderville, Utah. The town was named such because in the 1800s, Mormon LDS president Brigham Young established an experimental order of communal living in this location. It lasted 20 years.
Bryce Canyon is a must see for adventure travelers. There is nothing quite like it anywhere on the planet with a variety of red- and white-colored hoodoos in a giant amphitheater of red rock. There is a great trail system for exploring these 12 huge bowls of sedimentary rock. The Paiute describe the hoodoos as red rocks standing like the men they were before Coyote punished them. One of the formations goes by the name Five Naked Guys in the Shower. Just use your imagination on that one!
Driving to Bryce, we passed through Mt. Carmel, where the Maynard Dixon home and studio is located. The great landscape painter became known as the “Father of Western Art.” Because of COVID-19, the home and studio were closed to the public, but I placed it on my must-see list for the future, as I’ve always treasured his work.
Not to be missed when staying in Kanab is the Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, a no-kill facility (the first of its kind in the United States)for companion animals that gives refuge to 1,700-plus animals every day. Established in 1984, it now encompasses nearly 400 acres.
The Wave was a place relatively unknown except to locals, ardent explorers and “desert rats” until Microsoft Windows 7 launched it as their desktop wallpaper in 2009.
It is now known as one of the “holy grails of hikes.” In less than 15 years, it has become so popular that a lottery is held every morning in Kanab’s Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument Visitor Center Monday through Friday. It is a geological sandstone masterpiece of swirling rocks, but because of its frailness, only 20 visitors are allowed in each day (10 via an online draw and 10 via a live draw). Pete and I showed up one morning and placed our names in, along with 100-plus others. No luck, and we decided not to try again. However, Sam and Patty mentioned that they prefer a place called White Pocket. A few days later, we made the trek there over challenging dirt, gravel and sandy tormented roads. I’ll let my photos do the talking.
En route, we also stopped at the condor viewing site and for the first time in my life, I was able to view these magnificent birds in flight and in repose.
Glen Canyon National Recreation Area and Paria Toadstool Hoodoos
Brenda’s friend Joe Porto from Ashland had booked a striped bass fishing trip on Lake Powell, Arizona, for the two of them and he had two open spots so Pete and I said yes. We made arrangements to stay two nights at the wonderful Lake Powell Resort Wahweap outside Page. En route, Sam guided us to a new slot canyon beside Highway 89, along with a hike into the enthralling Paria Toadstool Hoodoos. This we followed up with a visit to famous Horseshoe Bend near Page where the Colorado River makes a 270 degree curve around a sandstone pillar. It was the most tourists that we had seen since the beginning of our respective journeys, but the geologic wonder is worth sharing with others.
Lake Powell has a mind boggling 2,000 miles of shoreline and 90 major canyons accessed only by watercraft. Our 4-5 hour fishing excursion from Antelope Marina was very productive, with ample striped bass caught. The scenery was amazing and our captain, 26-year-old Danny, was overflowing with knowledge about the lake and landscape. That evening, we had a scrumptious dinner at the resort’s Rainbow Room Restaurant with its evocative views of Lake Powell.
The following day, I wrote in my dairy: “Our morning view is enchanting from the veranda. Pete and I are having coffee, looking out to a flat, calm Lake Powell, framed by an eroded landscape of ancient limestone, creating fascinating pillars, columns, dinosaur-like desert mountains, framed by plateaus. Red, a variety of browns, sandstone, white and tints of green color the rock. Lake Powell is aqua green and blue. Our second story room affords a perfect view of the landscape. We have died and gone to heaven once again on this old and new Earth.”